Epistle 1.4 – Essay on Man

by ALEXANDER POPE (1688-1744)

The pride of aiming at more knowledge, and pretending to more perfection, the cause of Man’s error and misery. The impiety of putting himself in the place of God, and judging of the fitness or unfitness, perfection or imperfection, justice or injustice, of his dispensations.

Go, wiser thou! and in thy scale of sense
Weigh thy opinion against Providence;
Call imperfection what thou fanciest such;
Say, here he gives too little, there too much;
Destroy all creatures for thy sport or gust,
Yet cry, if man’s unhappy, God’s unjust;
If man alone engross not Heaven’s high care,
Alone made perfect here, immortal there:
Snatch from his hand the balance and the rod,
Rejudge his justice, be the God of God.
In pride, in reas’ning pride, our error lies;
All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies!
Pride still is aiming at the bless’d abodes,
Men would be Angels, Angels would be gods.
Aspiring to be gods, if Angels fell,
Aspiring to be Angels, men rebel:
And who but wishes to invert the laws
Of order, sins against th’Eternal Cause.

Essay on Man: Index to first lines

Reading by Martin Geeson for Librivox.org. Download entire audiobook here.

Alexander Pope

“If Pope prized difference, why are we so likely to hear only uniformity? The simple answer is that Pope’s variability is initially obscured by the prominence of his heroic couplets. These rhymed, end-stopped units of iambic pentameter (five-stressed lines) are immediately conspicuous for us because poets haven’t much used couplets for the last 200 years. But the pentameter couplet Pope favored was familiar to his readers as one of the central forms in English poetry since Chaucer; thus, variations and the construction of an original voice within it were more noticeable than its mere presence. …” From The Cambridge Companion to Alexander Pope (2008) by Pat Rogers
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